In 10 years, government lessens
What a difference a decade makes. At this time in 2007, Chautauqua County and its municipalities were digging in their heels and fighting any possible discussions on downsizing or consolidation.
Today, it is a much different story. Government locally has been reduced and there is a lot more realistic leadership.
Consider these changes that have taken shape since the summer of ’07:
¯ The Chautauqua County Legislature has reduced its membership from 25 to 19.
¯ A north county water district, something discussed for more than 15 years, is coming to fruition.
¯ Villages of Forestville in Hanover and Cherry Creek have voted to dissolve while Lakewood voted against and Sherman narrowly rejected it.
¯ Towns of Charlotte and Gerry and the village of Sinclairville are looking at a consolidation plan that includes the Cassadaga Valley Central Schools in the project.
¯ Silver Creek eliminated its police department and now receives law-enforcement services from the county sheriff.
¯ After on-and-off again discussions in 2005 and more recent years, Dunkirk and Fredonia are again considering a shared police facility.
All these are small steps, but they could lead to something much bigger: $20 million. This month, county officials — led by Executive Vince Horrigan and Legislator George Borrello — will be making the pitch to Albany on just how progressive Chautauqua County has been and is willing to be in moving forward.
Thanks to the dissolution of Cherry Creek, the county is one of six municipalities in the running for the $20 million grant that awards efforts for more government efficiencies.
Recent accomplishments almost make many forget the long, tough road in getting to this point. Forestville, which was in financial ruins, had to threaten a 445 percent increase in village property taxes before residents there finally saw the light.
County legislators then were just as in the dark. Despite numerous calls for downsizing by constituents, the out-of-touch group thought their jobs were more important than they really are. When it came to public vote, 87 percent who went to the polls wanted six less legislators.
And Silver Creek? During former Mayor Kurt Lindstrom’s reign of error, taxes shot up — and a new Department of Public Works building was purchased for $725,000 — or 2 1/2 times its value. You see it today all dressed up at Routes 5 and 20 in Hanover. In 2011, it was under scrutiny of the state comptroller’s office. Something had to give — and it was the elimination of the village police.
Before 2010, county population figures were about 135,000. Today, the plummet from 150,000 in the 1980s continues below 130,000 — about 20,000 fewer people in less than four decades.
In the background, these efficiency efforts are due in part to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York state. It forced a tax cap that makes it punitive for municipalities and schools to exceed a certain percentage increase.
Now, the state wants to reward efficiencies with $20 million. Chautauqua County, thanks to current local leadership, has a good chance at the jackpot.
‘Time bomb’ update
On July 5, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer made a stop at the home of Jerry Chiano, a Vietnam veteran and resident of Valley Stream on Long Island.
Chiano served in the Navy and was sent to Vietnam at 19 years old. He had a tracheotomy due to cancer of the throat, which has been linked to Agent Orange. The cancer was diagnosed 20 years ago. More recently, Chiano has also been diagnosed with bile duct cancer but does not receive service-related compensation for this disease.
Chiano’s current battle with cholangiocarcinoma mirrors that of former area resident and Brocton Superintendent Jack Skahill, who died five years ago from the same rare cancer with only about 5,000 documented worldwide cases.
Schumer, in meeting with the media that day, sounded much like Skahill’s wife, Eileen, who speaks as an advocate for all who served in Vietnam about the “time bomb” disease tied to a parasite in the Southeast Asia waters. “It’s not just in the fish,” she said during a phone interview for this column in December 2016. “If you ate green vegetables that were grown near the waterways and the farmers used that river water to water the food, then the larva from that parasite was also on the food.”
Both Skahill and Schumer advocate for Vietnam veterans to be tested — and compensated — for this disease.
John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 366-3000, ext. 401.